Sunday, November 29, 2009

Post-game Party: Roooaaaadd trrriiiipppp!

Glitter Graphics

So here we are, 1/3 of the way through our annual trek across the American west/mid-west complete with bizarre game times and the occasional appearance from C-Mac. In my last post, I made a point of saying that the game in Detroit on Friday would be difficult and might not be pretty; well it was difficult, Kiprusoff faced fourty shots in the game and the Flames were largely outplayed, and it wasn't pretty, apart from a few lucky bounces, some sub-par goaltending from Osgood, and the end result: a 3-0 shutout win for the Flames in one of the most notoriously unfriendly buildings in the NHL.

The Flames were outshot 15-6 and 17-5 in the first and second periods and, although they were faced with the task of killing off six Detroit powerplays as the refs attempted to even the proverbial score, were the beneficiaries of an early whistle, a questionable goaltender interference no-goal, and some timely defensive ineptitude from Pavel Datsyuk. They got it together in the third period and managed to hold the Wings to only eight shots, some of which were very good quality scoring chances, after taking the 3-0 lead early on a nice shot by Jokinen that went top-shelf on Osgood.

At one point in the final frame, Todd Bertuzzi had a scoring chance, a relatively tame but hard shot from the faceoff circle, and I screamed at the TV: "NO, YOU'RE NOT SCORING!!!" and it seemed to work. The Wings were shut out in back-to-back games at home for the first time since the 70s, and given that they are depleted by injuries, deserved a better fate. The final result is flattering for the Flames, but they are not yet the elite level team that a 3-0 road win over the Red Wings might imply that they are.

Stop Two: Columbus

Nationwide Arena is another hard-luck building for the Flames, who lost their last outing there earlier in the season by a score of 2-1. Curtis McElhinney was given the start after Kiprusoff's magnificent fourty-save performance the night before, and the Flames got off to a surprisingly good start, outshooting the Jackets 10-5 in the opening frame. After the Flames took the lead on a goal by Jokinen five and a half minutes into the second, things swiftly turned south for the visitors. They went over twelve minutes without a shot in the middle frame and the Blue Jackets took the lead on three unanswered goals by Rick Nash, Marc Methot, and Jared Boll, two of which were assisted by former Flame Kristian Huselius. I think I've already mentioned how much I loved watching him play when he was a Flame; I was pretty heartbroken when he signed with the Jackets, and games like this don't do much to ease the pain.

After a lacklustre start to the third, I was ready to write this game off on the basis of fatigue and a couple bad goals allowed by C-Mac, but that changed with under ten minutes remaining in the final stanza. After a few good forechecking shifts, Dustin Boyd converted a swell pass from Jokinen (who now has three goals and nine assists in his last eleven games) to cut Columbus' lead in half. As Duncan from Hit The Post points out, he has not only been contributing offensively, but he has been doing so at important times in the game. Joker's not exactly Mr. Clutch, but his timely offense of late sure does help. Good on 'ya, Pumpkin Head. Just over a minute later, Nigel Dawes swatted home what seems to be a now patented behind-the-net feed from David Moss for his third goal in as many games to send the game into overtime.

The Flames would go on to outshoot the Jackets 4-3 in OT, fueled by their late-period comeback, but to no avail. The shootout wasn't exactly a goaltending battle, as both 'tenders surrendered goals on the first two shots they faced, followed by saves on Iginla and Tyutin respectively. In the fourth round, former Flame Anton Stralman missed, running into McElhinney in the process (Fun fact: I was in the process of making a white chocolate mocha for a customer at work and simultaneously rambling on about Stralman's stats with CBJ as he was about to shoot when I was unceremoniously rushed by said customer), and Lundmark sealed the deal for the Flames with his first career NHL shootout goal.

The Flames enter the second third of their six-game roadie tomorrow (6PM, Sportsnet) against the red-hot Predators in Nashville. The Preds are 9-4 at home, recording impressive wins against the Wings, Devils, Sharks, and Blackhawks. The fact that they refer to themselves as "Smashville" on the team website makes me want the Flames to beat them even more. Sarich and Bourque are still out with undisclosed injuries for the Flames, who have recalled Staffan Kronwall from Abbotsford. I've also heard through the grapevine that Reggie has been playing with somewhat of a bad elbow. The Preds are healthy as far as I can tell. The Flames could tie a franchise record for points in ten straight games if they record at least a point tomorrow against Nashville; they swept the season series with the Preds 4-0 last season.

This game is being called a "measuring stick" game for the Preds, as they look to establish themselves as a legitimate playoff contender in the West. Let's make it difficult for them.

Go Flames Go.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Post-game Party: Ghosts of Coyotes past

The Flames touched down in Calgary briefly last night for a game against the Phoenix Coyotes which resembled a big 'ol somewhat incestual family reunion--these two teams have exchanged players more often than Elisha Cuthbert--so naturally, certain individuals had a chip on their respective shoulders.

After a lacklustre first period in which the Flames took back-to-back penalties and were outshot 11-7, they turned it around in a hurry in the second, outshooting Phoenix 11-4. The Coyotes had been slow getting to loose pucks in their own zone all evening, and the Flames finally capitalized late in the second, as Curtis Glencross feathered a perfect pass to Daymond Langkow, uncontested in the slot, who promptly fired home his eighth goal of the season to give the Flames a 1-0 lead.

The third period was a little more back and forth, but the Flames were obviously playing it safe and trying to protect the lead, which resulted in them getting hemmed in their own zone for long stretches as Phoenix pressed for the equalizer, which they eventually got on a powerplay midway through the final frame.

A breakdown in communication between the Flames' penalty killers Nystrom and Glencross left the Coyotes' Keith Yandle with an open shooting lane from the point, and he blasted a shot past a screened Kiprusoff to square the affair at one. The Flames would respond just over four minutes later; David Moss, engaged in a battle behind the net, managed to win possession of the puck and, doing his best Gretzky impersonation, fired a slick no-look pass to a wide-open Nigel Dawes, who made no mistake on his fifth of the season and first in thirteen games.

Dawes' tally put the nail in the coffin for his former team and propelled the Flames to a 2-1 victory, finally putting a stop to the team's four-game losing streak on home ice. Daymond Langkow also chipped in against his old mates, and led all Flames forwards in ice time at 20:30. Lanks was everywhere against the 'Yotes; killing penalties, forcing turnovers, scoring, assisting, you name it, and was named the game's first star as a result. While it is not surprising that the Flames second line again fulfilled the lamp-lighting duties, it is surprising that they continued to do so without Rene Bourque. David Moss appears to be fitting in nicely with his new linemates.

Olli Jokinen's effort against his former squad was nowhere near as inspiring as that of his teammates, as he was more of a liability than anything else--I counted at least two sequences where he turned over the puck, once in the offensive zone off an ill-advised pass and once more in the neutral zone. The latter was particularly atrocious as it lead to a dangerous scoring chance by Shane Doan and forced Kiprusoff into a hard and very uncomfortable-looking save, one of his twenty-seven in the game. After what was one of his better games of the season, if not his best, against the Ducks, it appears we are back to square one with Joker.

On the defensive side of things, it was somewhat of a tough night for the Flames' blueliners. I don't know if anyone else thought that Bouwmeester struggled a bit--he wasn't terrible by any means but his positioning was slightly off and he was a little slow getting to loose pucks; I counted two giveaways on his part and one sequence where he overskated the puck, opting to take an opposing player into the end boards instead. Phaneuf's lack of effort in his own zone was again glaringly obvious last night, as I noted that he was successful in winning possession of the puck and exiting the defensive zone only once.

I know I'm a little late to the party on the Phaneuf v. Sutter v. Other Unnamed Flames Player rumour mill, but issues in the dressing room can sink a team and compromise its season, as we all saw last year with the Montreal Canadiens. While the issue will likely never be directly addressed by the organization, I certainly hope the Flames are able to sort it out sooner rather than later, if there is any truth to these rumours whatsoever.

The Flames landed in Detroit today where they'll begin a season-high six-game road trip (5:00PM, Sportsnet) with stops in Columbus, Nashville, Phoenix, San Jose, and Los Angeles. With the Flames currently one point back of first place in the Northwest, the importance of this road trip cannot be stressed enough. This team has exceeded expectations away from the Saddledome, but every team they face on this trip will present a challenge, some more than others, and games against Detroit and San Jose could be of the "measuring stick" variety.

Tomorrow's matchup with the Wings will be difficult and it may not be pretty. Let's hope for the best.

Go Flames Go.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Getzlaf brothers are on a mission

After we all recovered from the Chicago Shit-Kicking, Pt. 2, the Flames departed for a mini two-game road trip in sunny So-Cal, beginning with an afternoon tilt in L.A. on Saturday and closing with a match-up against the Ducks on Monday night.

After being challenged somewhat ambiguously by Brent Sutter after the loss to the Hawks, the Flames' leaders and veterans responded against the Kings. Down 2-1 after giving up two quick goals, Jarome Iginla tied the game and went on to record his ninth career hat-trick while Daymond Langkow scored the game-winner shorthanded en route to a 5-2 victory, a rarity in afternoon road games.

The Flames took on the Ducks tonight at the Honda Centre, a building where they haven't won since January of '04. After failing to register a shot on goal for the first five minutes of the period, the Flames broke out and Curtis Glencross scored on a breakaway to put the guests ahead one-zip.

The lead, however, would be short-lived, as the Ducks would tie the game on a goal by Bobby Ryan, assisted by Jamie Lundmark on a brutal giveaway behind the Flames' net. Lundmark was promptly removed from the first line and replaced with Dustin Boyd. A minute and change later, Anaheim took the lead on a goal by Ryan Getzlaf, who also made his presence felt in this game by cranking a shot off of Cory Sarich's head. It appears that the Getzlaf brothers have a personal vendetta against Calgary sports teams, which is odd considering Ryan was once a member of the Hitmen. Ungrateful ass.

The Flames spent much of the second period shorthanded, burdened with the task of killing off three straight Anaheim powerplays, including a lengthy five-on-three. The Flames were outshot 15-8 in the period and got lucky on a few missed chances by the Ducks, but entered the third period down by just one goal after some solid penalty killing and superb saves by Kiprusoff.

The Flames then took over in the third, outshooting the Ducks 18-7, but would not be rewarded until the final thirty seconds of the game. With Kiprusoff on the bench and the puck in Flames territory, it looked as this game was headed for the "Let This One Slip Away" file. That was until Iginla hustled back to into his own zone to collect the puck, took off down the ice with Jokinen and Glencross, and put a sizzling wrister five-hole on Giguere after receiving a nice cross-ice pass from Jokinen. Tie game with eighteen seconds left in regulation.

Both teams had their chances in overtime but failed to find the back of the net, and Teemu Selanne eventually won the game in the shootout after Dawes, Glencross, and Jokinen were all stopped by Giguere, who made 41 saves against his former team. Typical.

I was curious as to why Brent Sutter didn't use Iginla in the shootout until Ryan Lambert from Two-Line Pass informed me via Twitter that Iggy hasn't scored a shootout goal since 2007 (!) I had no idea it had been so long, but you'd think that Sutter would give him a chance after he played such a good game and scored the game-tying goal?

Three out of four possible points on the road is great, but there are still some irritating habits that keep resurfacing with this team; one of them being the defensive-meltdown-and-surrendering-two-quick-goals act. This one occurred as a result of a particularly horrendous series of giveaways, poor down low coverage, and poor rebound control.

This minute-and-eight-seconds long sequence of crap sucked all the momentum out of an otherwise good period and is a fine example of the mental lapses Brent Sutter has been referring to. You're not always going to be able to bounce back from those, and the Flames are fortunate that they have been able to do just that over the past two games. I still wonder if this team will ever be able to play hockey for a full sixty minutes.

Even though the Flames registered a season-high fourty-three shots on goal, Kiprusoff was still forced to make twenty-nine saves, some of them very difficult, as a result of lax defensive play. Phaneuf and Regehr struggled, in particular against the Ducks' top line, as both were on the ice around the crease for both Anaheim goals, failing to clear rebounds and cover their men. Phaneuf finished the game -1 while Regehr was -2.

While the Flames' penalty kill has improved exponentially since the game against Chicago, killing off all six opposing powerplays in their past two games, the powerplay has yet to follow suit; the man advantage was a futile 0-4 again tonight against the Ducks, and one can't help but wonder if a powerplay goal could have changed the outcome of this game. Brent Sutter and Co. really need to get the PP going, and sooner rather than later.


- Olli Jokinen is still not the $5.5 million first-line centre we were promised, but he continues to show signs of improvement. He registered four shots on goal tonight against the Ducks and assisted on both Flames goals. He had a few golden chances around the net, but was unable to make anything of them. He maintained a presence in the offensive zone and his pass to Iginla on the tying goal was especially impressive.

This was undoubtably one of Olli's best games of the season. His improved performance as of late may be the result of a little one-on-one practice time with Brent Sutter last Thursday. Also, Matthew Lombardi inadvertently scored in his own net tonight against the Oilers, which isn't much but it makes me feel marginally better about the whole situation.

- Curtis Glencross had three, yes three, breakaway or partial breakaway chances in this game, scoring on one of them in the first period. He was simply fantastic in this game, finishing +2 with four shots on goal.

- Dustin Boyd played very well while filling in for Jamie Lundmark on the first line. His speed, passing ability, and versatility make him an ideal linemate. He finished the game with an even +/- and three shots on goal.

- Moss and Nystrom were both very impressive against the Ducks and have been playing very well lately, especially Moss. Both did an excellent job of winning puck battles along the boards, protecting the puck, and creating chances around the net.

- What more can I possibly say about Jarome Iginla? The guy has scored twelve goals in his last ten games, including a hat-trick and multiple game-winners, and he turned in a fine performance again tonight. He won puck battles, intercepted passes, and controlled the play in the opposing zone for large chunks of time. His effort on the game-tying goal was a thing of beauty.

- Jay Bouwmeester led the team with six shots on goal and he was +2 on the evening, again demonstrating his ability to contribute at both ends of the ice. Congratulations on being awesome, Jay.

- I know I have professed my love for Daymond Langkow in the past, and I'm going to take this opportunity to heap more praise on the gritty veteran centre. I counted at least two sequences in this game where he forced a turnover in the offensive zone and created a scoring chance. He is just so quick-thinking, smart, and effective with his stick and body positioning. Never leave us, Daymond.

Up Next: The Flames return home briefly for a date with the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday before departing for Detroit to begin a six-game road trip Friday.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Words of wisdom

In one interview, Brent Sutter hit the nail on the head, taking the first step in addressing an issue that has been dogging the Calgary Flames and their fans for years.

“This isn’t just something that just happened tonight. We just happened to play a very talented team tonight. This has been something that has been addressed with this group since Day 1, that there’s too much inconsistency in their game. The reason why there’s too much inconsistency in their game is because there’s too much inconsistency with individuals wanting to stay with it for 60 minutes."

“When it’s a consistent thing and you have to continue to do it to get them through it, and continue to push — is it something you like to do at this level as a head coach? No, it isn’t, but something has to be done, obviously, with this group. And as a staff we’re prepared to do that and we’ve been focused in on doing that."

“But at some point as individuals they’ve got to want to take it. They gotta want to take it and say, let’s start holding ourselves accountable, let’s start being accountable to one another. Let’s start getting a little upset with each other when guys aren’t playing well. Let’s start pushing them."

“But everything is, personally I don’t like that it’s too casual. I’m not used to it to be quite honest. I’m not used to a casual atmosphere. There needs to be a lot more emotion throughout, on a consistent basis, to want to succeed. And get upset about stuff. Don’t just take it in stride like there’s another day tomorrow.”
--Brent Sutter after the Flames' 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, Flames Insider

This comes only a day after reports of a heated argument between Coach Sutter and Dion Phaneuf surfaced after the Flames' 3-2 loss to the Avalanche, and less than day after Brent Sutter reassured the media that lack of passion and emotion was not an issue in the Flames' dressing room.

Before this article was even written, Olli Jokinen illustrated his coach's point perfectly after the morning skate by saying this:

"I think I have seven or eight times I hit the post so far this year, if half of those would’ve gone in, nobody would be questioning anything."

Instead of acknowledging that he has to play better, work harder, make a conscious effort to get more involved in the game, Olli Jokinen blames the innocent red metal goal post for his failings.

This was supposed to change.

Mike Keenan was hired to fix this.
Brent Sutter was hired to fix this.

It's about time this stops being the coach's problem to fix.

It seems unfair to generalize, to say that the players on this team don't care; obviously they want to play well and they want to win, but this team has played with a causal, almost lazy indifference for years now that should be reserved for consistently successful franchises like the Detroit Red Wings. Wins should come easy and often, and losses should be accepted by fans, no matter how bad, because we're lucky to have a winning team that makes the playoffs regularly. But even they don't stoop to this level. This team is a facade that has been parading around the league with a sense of entitlement and a sparkling 12-6-2 record that they arguably don't deserve, and the Blackhawks exposed that tonight.

The fact that this Flames team has not beaten a team above them in the standings speaks volumes, and the 7-1 blowout loss they suffered at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks should be considered flattering.

The Blackhawks are a team that is perhaps the polar opposite of the Flames, despite the fact that they sit only two points above them in the Western Conference standings. The Hawks are an original six franchise with a history of success. After years of losing and slipping attendance figures, this team has worked its way back to the top by building a culture of hard-working, youthful enthusiasm composed of energetic players willing to do whatever it takes to win.

The Blackhawks are young and simply excited to be playing in the NHL, in front of a rejuvinated fan base, and they don't take anything for granted. They will punish you for being lazy and indifferent with their speed, strength, and sheer determination, just like they have done to the Flames. In 2004, a Flames team lacking talent and star power made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final on a foundation of consistent effort and team work. I shudder to think what this far younger, more talented Chicago team is capable of.

So what can we do to change this? Is it going to take years of being Western Conference cellar-dwellers for a Blackhawks-esque Flames team to emerge? What will it possibly take to make these players, supposedly the best of the best, understand? To motivate them to be better night in and night out, to want to play and win for each other?

An NHL head coach shouldn't have to drill these basic elements of the game into the heads of his players before and after every game. Until this is no longer necessary, the Flames cannot be considered a contending team, no matter their position in the standings.

Hockey is a team game, and sometimes you can escape with the "W" even when some players didn't chip in, but the success won't be real and it won't last long; this seems to be what the Flames are currently experiencing.

At the end of the interview, Brent Sutter delivered this cryptic blow to Flames fans that finally answered that nagging question in the back of all our minds:

(A reporter then asked if there was a problem with leadership in the dressing room.)
“There’s things that I don’t want to discuss, but I know. I know what they are. But we are trying to deal with it.
“It starts with your top players and works on down.”

It goes without saying that a loss of this magnitude is unacceptable. Players will go through the motions in the media; they'll say they're embarrassed and that they have to play better and stick to their game plan. If things improve, this game will be considered a wake-up call and a pivotal turning point in the Flames' season; if things go South, it will be considered a turning point for different reasons. The real effects of this loss will be seen in the response of the players on this team in upcoming games, specifically the "core" group.

Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr, Miikka Kiprusoff, Daymond Langkow, Craig Conroy--your leadership has been challenged. Your character has been challenged. It's up to you to respond. You either rise to the challenge or shrink away, and if the latter occurs, changes have to be made.

To top off this crap-tastic evening, Rene Bourque, one of the team's lone consistent contributors, left the game in the second period after taking a hit in the chest/shoulder area.

I don't think Blingees can bust this slump.

Why do I feel like this is only the beginning of the Flames' problems?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Flames vs. Avs, the power of Blingee

Okay, so in keeping with my promise of more frequent contributions to this here blog, I will compose a brief pre-game post for you, but mostly I just want to show you the Blingees I made last night. If you don't know what Blingees are, visit Kim and Zoe at Puck Huffers, because only they can do them justice. Anywho, inspired by their ability to summon the Penguins out of a slump by creating gaudy, over-the-top, bedazzled images featuring the likeness of a hockey player of choice and some well-placed stamps, I made it my mission to do the same. The Flames are not in a slump per-say, but I figured Blingees can serve multiple purposes, thus I present you with these creations of mine:


Blingees are officially the new Paint.

Ok, back to business. The Flames are back at the 'Dome after an outwardly successful three-game road trip where they earned five out of six points. Despite climbing to within one point of the Avalanche, who coincidentally, are their opponents tonight, the Flames were outworked, outshot, and generally outplayed in all but one of those games, and Brent Sutter made his displeasure with his club perfectly clear, as he always does. This is where shit starts to get serious. Yes, it's only November, but the Flames have a chance to grab the division lead with a win tonight over the Avs, who are 0-2-1 in their last three. Points at any time in the season are invaluable, as is a division lead; we all know how quickly those can disappear.

Curtis Glencross returns to the lineup tonight after serving his three-game suspension for his hit to the head of New York's Chris Drury, and was welcomed back with the assignment of first-line duty, as he will suit up alongside Iginla and Jokinen. I have expressed my displeasure with the rotating nature of the left-wing position on the Flames first line before, and believe it is something that has to be earned through hard work and consistency.

Before Glencross was suspended, he had been demoted to a third-line role as the coaching staff had been unsatisfied with his play. In his absence, Moss and Boyd really stepped up, and were some of the team's best forwards in Buffalo and Toronto; the line of Nystrom-Boyd-Moss was effective at five-on-five and on special teams, and will start the game together again tonight. Maybe Glencross will be motivated by the injustice of his three-game exile and pull one of his game-changing stunts that have endeared him to Flames fans.


McGrattan is presumably a healthy scratch.



This game will be a tough test for a Flames squad that seemed intimidated by the opposition's speed and aggressive forecheck in their last two outings. The key to success for them will be to limit turnovers and scoring chances off turnovers, which seems to be Colorado's go-to offensive strategy. Cleaner, quicker exits from the defensive zone are also crucial against a team like the Avs, and as always, the outshooting the opposition usually helps.

If Jokinen could get a goal or two that would be nice as well. Perhaps the Blingee I made for him will help.

Game time is 7:30 (Sportsnet West)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

If procrastination were a Country, I'd be its First Lady

If procrastination were a Country, I'd be its First Lady. I really should not have a blog.

The Flames kicked off their mini-three game road trip with what was probably their best all-around effort so far this season, resulting in a 1-0 win over Montreal--Kiprusoff's 200th as a Flame, and his 31st career shutout. The Canadiens had some marvelous opportunities, including breakaway chances by both Cammalleri and Gomez, but the Flames held the edge in almost every other department in this physical affair, which saw the Habs out-hit their visitors 26-21.

The effort in Buffalo was not lacking by any means, but the Flames were clearly overwhelmed by the up-tempo, physical Sabres and allowed them to dictate the play after taking the lead early in the first period. The Flames were outshot 18-5 in the opening frame, but escaped the Buffalo blitzkrieg tied at one thanks to some timely stick-work from Cory Sarich and heroics from a certain netminder. The visitors found their legs in the second, dominating the shot clock 12-3, and played an evenly matched third period before eventually succumbing to the Sabres in a shootout.

The stat that stood out most in this game--16 missed shots by the Flames. They finished the game with 26 shots on goal, not enough against a goaltender of Ryan Miller's quality. For a team that has struggled to score goals recently, they have to get more shots on net. Another number that was hard to swallow? The Flames' 11% faceoff performance on the powerplay. They went 0-5 against the Sabres, and that horrendous faceoff percentage was likely a contributing factor. The Sabres operated at 89% shorthanded, while the Flames, boasting an extremely efficient penalty-killing unit as of late, won only 2 of 7 short-handed draws while managing to nullify all but one of Buffalo's powerplays, including one in overtime. Overall, these were my only real qualms with this game, can't complain too much about a 2-1 shootout loss in a city where this team hasn't won in thirteen years.

Yesterday's game in Toronto was an entirely different story. It all started off well; the Flames jumped out to an early two-goal lead shortly after the "80s Night" festivities had wrapped up at the ACC. Both teams were playing on the second night of back-to-back games, so some sloppiness was to be expected, but it appeared the Leafs had gotten theirs out of the way early. Toronto's relentless forecheck and consistent pressure on the Flames puck-carriers frustrated them, and resulted in some undisciplined play by the visitors. The Leafs and their 3rd best powerplay (?%$#@) capitalized, drawing within one. Dustin Boyd restored the two goal lead on a brilliant individual effort after blocking a shot in his own zone, chasing Gustavsson from the game in the process.

The second period was so atrocious I almost wanted to file it under "this shall never be mentioned again" and allow it to sit there, collecting dust forevermore. The entire twenty minute frame resembled a game of keep-away. The really twisted kind where one of the worst teams in the NHL fires twenty shots on goal compared to a supposed Stanley Cup contender's four. As you can imagine, the majority of the period was spent in the Flames' zone. When they did manage to venture past their own blueline, ill-advised passes and turnovers ensured they ended up back behind it in no time. Somehow, the Flames managed to escape the period with a one goal lead. Kiprusoff is a fucking one-man team right now. "Lights out," "Mr. Clutch," whatever you want to call him, he's been unreal. Either he is determined to prove his detractors wrong (i.e. just about all of us at some point or another) or he really, really wants to make Team Finland.

Toronto's second period outburst seemed to tire them out, and the Flames took advantage in the third. I like to think that this was their strategy all along. Iginla scored his second of the game on another of his trademark shots from the wing and Bouwmeester sealed the deal with a slapper, temporarily alleviating the Flames' nagging powerplay drought. Thank god Toronto's defence still sucks. The Flames managed to escape TO with a 5-2 win, their first at the ACC since 2000, despite getting outshot 40-22.


The moment that made you want to laugh and cry simultaneously--Jokinen's "fight" with Francois Beauchemin. It made you want to laugh because he was instantly taken down Beauchemin--who is one tough customer--and emerged with nothing but a cut to show for his efforts, and cry out of frustration on his behalf. The big lug led the team with three hits and had three shots on goal against Buffalo and has been surprisingly decent defensively as of late, but just can't seem to catch a break. Sure the effort could be better, more consistent, but it's there. The hardest thing for a player to do when he's in a slump is to "simplify" his game, but that is exactly what Olli needs to do. Shoot the puck, use his size, and do the things that made him successful in the past. I really feel for the poor sucker.

- Derek Roy was, to borrow a phrase from the infamous Pierre McGuire, a "Monster" against the Flames on Friday night. He had 7 shots on goal (that's three more than any Flames player had in the game), scored a beauty of a goal in regulation and added another in the shootout. If you weren't considering him for Team Canada, you are now. He's fast, talented, and I think he can provide some serious energy in a third or fourth line role for Canada in 2010. I bet Iggy would love to have this little 5"9 SOB as his centreman.

- The Flames' powerplay has fallen from second in the league to twelfth. We all knew that the success they were enjoying at the beginning of the season would level off at some point, but nobody could have predicted the drop-off would be this severe. It's their powerplay faceoff percentage that worries me most--11% against the Sabres and 33% against the Leafs--since it is impossible to maintain zone presence without possession of the puck.

- Speaking of special teams, Brent Sutter said something that was of great interest to me a few days ago when describing his team's recent success on the penalty kill. He said in an article in the Calgary Herald that he had employed some of the same strategies the team had been using before he was hired as Head Coach, when they finished 5th in the league on the PK last season under the tutelage of Mike Keenan and Co. Does this mean that the previous coaching staff wasn't completely inept in the special teams department, or that the Flames just have a lot of good penalty killers on their roster?

-David Moss and Phil Kessel are cousins. Who Knew?

- Moss has been playing very well on a line with Boyd and Nystrom. The trio were some of the only forwards who were skating well and were able to establish a forecheck and good puck support in the offensive zone against both the Leafs and the Sabres.

- Robyn Regehr was +4 last night against Toronto and Dion Phaneuf was +3. If only Brent Sutter's stubbornness when it comes to pairings/line combinations would yield the same results with Jokinen and Iginla.

-Sheldon Souray finally returned to the Oilers lineup this afternoon when they faced the Thrashers in Atlanta after missing sixteen games with a concussion, blamed on an inadvertent trip by Jarome Iginla, during which Oilers fans whined incessantly about how they were missing on of their best players and practically called for a lifetime ban from the NHL for Iginla. They still lost.

Up Next: The Flames return to the 'Dome on Tuesday night to face the Avalanche, coming off an embarrassing 8-2 pounding last night at the hands of the Canucks, after which a handful of Avs players were forced to sit through HNIC's "After Hours" with Kevin Weekes and Scott Oake. The Avs won a 3-2 decision at the 'Dome back in October.

I promise to be a better fan and contribute more frequently to the hockey blogosphere this week. Pinky-swear.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Post-game Party(s): 3 for the price of 1

I have been a busy, busy gal as of late; I spent virtually all of last week writing a paper for my Communications class, and when I wasn't typing like a madwoman I was working. If it wasn't for Brittany and the Artwear fashion show, I probably wouldn't have left the neighbourhood. When I have a major assignment due I have to shut myself off from absolutely everything, including hockey and my beloved Flames, or it simply won't get done. As a result, I have only seen miniscule snippets of the Flames' past three games and feel incredibly guilty about it. This is like I'm in confession or something.

So the Flames have won three straight games, including two victories in back-to-back overtime games in Dallas and St. Louis. Curtis McElhinney doubled his win total as a Flame with a superb thirty-eight save performance which, along with a controversial delay-of-game penalty in the extra frame that made Marc Crawford look like this:
(I call it the Angry Porcupine) helped the Flames to a 3-2 overtime win. They led 1-0 until the third period, when Dallas tied the game then promptly scored again to take the lead, in typical Flames fashion. With less than thirty seconds to go and McElhinney on the bench, Daymond Langkow walked out in front of Marty Turco untouched and fired home the tying goal. The Flames went on the powerplay in OT when a Dallas player appeared to shoot the puck over the glass from inside his own blueline, but video review revealed that he was in fact outside the defensive zone.

The call stood, and Jarome Iginla capitalized for his second goal and third point of the game. The Flames won despite getting outshot 40-22, but outhit the Stars by a significant margin. McElhinney had what was undoubtably his best game as a Flame, but the team still has to play with more confidence in front of him. He is a good goalie, but they can't count on him to stop forty shots every start he gets.

Onto St. Louis. This game was very similar to the Dallas game; the Flames took a 1-0 lead on goal by Iginla. The shot was originally stopped by Mason and appeared to be on its way across the goal line when Eric Brewer swooped in to knock it away, but instead put it into his own net. You have to be good to be lucky, right? Things finally appear to be turning around for the Captain. The Flames clung to the lead for dear life, but alas, the Blues tied the game on a powerplay early in the third.

Despite taking a myriad of penalties, the Flames were able to hold off the Blues attack, which hasn't been especially dangerous lately, with some magnificent work from Kiprusoff, who was superb in his return from a mysterious malady. The Flames worked their overtime magic once again, this time on a goal by Dion Phaneuf. The Flames narrowly outshot the Blues 32-31 and blocked twenty-one shots in the game en route to winning both back-to-back games for the first time this season.

The Flames returned home to Sean Avery and the waiting New York Rangers on Saturday night. In the opening minute, Curtis Glencross caught an unsuspecting Chris Drury with a shoulder to the head, anticipating that he was about to take a pass from a Rangers teammate. Drury remained down on the ice for a few moments, but was promptly helped to the dressing room by Rangers staff. The former Flame didn't return to the game and it was later revealed that he had sustained a concussion on the play. Again, they took the lead on an early goal, but committed seven turnovers in the first period alone, leading to the tying goal by the Rangers late in the period.

The Flames took the lead again on a powerplay goal by Jarome Iginla, and carried it into the third period. Rene Bourque put the icing on the cake with three and a half minutes remaining in the third to put the Flames up by two, despite getting outshot 13-5 in the period. The Flames emerged victorious despite turning over the puck fifteen times (five of those courtesy of one Olli Jokinen) and getting outshot 33-22. Kiprusoff was phenomenal again; perhaps McElhinney's thirty-eight save performance in Dallas inspired him somehow. He has now allowed just two goals in his past two starts, stopping over sixty shots.

Avery was a non-factor in this game, and Phaneuf caught him with a clean, open-ice shoulder check in the third, which appeared to satisfy the sold-out crowd. The Rangers later responded to Glencross' hit that put their captain out of action, with Marc Staal calling the hit "brutal, just brutal," and claiming that Glencross hit Drury with "an elbow right in the chin." Rangers coach John Tortorella simply said that Drury was concussed and the hit should have resulted in a major penalty and that the league would deal with it accordingly.

Curtis Glencross had a disciplinary hearing with Colin Campbell today and was suspended for three games. I have only seen limited video of the hit on YouTube and on TV, and have not seen a good enough angle to determine whether it was an elbow or a shoulder. Yes, it was a hit to the head. No, Drury was not in possession of the puck. I know this is the type of hit and resulting injury that the league is trying to prevent, and that given the recent dramatic increase in head injuries, Colin Campbell had to do something.

I feel that this suspension is excessive. Curtis Glencross does not have a reputation for dirty play, in fact I believe he has been a victim of it on at least one occasion; while there is no denying that the hit to Drury's head was unnecessary and not in the best of taste, it was clear that Glencross was anticipating that Drury would receive the puck and continue the play, and thus attempted to obstruct him (as he said later today in a statement). The league is clearly trying to send a message with this suspension, and perhaps believes that making an example of Glencross will lead to a decrease in the prevalence of "dirty" play and resultant injuries and make players more cautious on the ice.

Fair enough. If Glencross sitting for three games means that another player thinks twice before flattening an unsuspecting opponent with a questionable check, fine by me, but I highly doubt that will happen. Comparing this hit on the concussion-prone Drury to other infractions (Richards: no suspension, Ott: 2 games, Scuderi: fine, Ladd: no suspension) proves just how inconsistent the NHL is in disciplining its players. The head-shot debate is once again the flavour of the week in the NHL and in the hockey media, and will no doubt be discussed at the ongoing General Manager's meetings in Toronto.

The Flames left this afternoon for a three-game Eastern road trip with stops in Montreal, Buffalo, and Toronto. Although the Flames have won three straight games, they haven't played their best hockey, and can thank some brilliant play by McElhinney and Kiprusoff and a few lucky breaks for some of their recent success.

They were outshot badly both in Dallas and at home against New York, spending far too much time in their own zone as a result of giveaways and sloppy play, which Coach Sutter was none too pleased about at this morning's practice. The Flames will have to limit the giveaways and tighten up in their own zone if they hope to stop the Canadiens' speedy top line. With Cammalleri being shuffled to the second line in order to provide more offence, the Flames' blueline brigade will have to be on their toes at all times.

Up front, they will need 1st-Star-of-the-Week Jarome Iginla, who has responded beautifully to his little private talk with Brent with five points in three games, to be the difference-maker once again. I believe Sutter had Iggy playing on a line with Conroy at centre and Jokinen on the wing at some point against the Rangers, it will be interesting to see if that continues. With Glencross out for three games and the status of Fredrik Sjostrom, who took a puck in the hand during practice, unknown, further line shuffling could be imminent barring a call-up from the Heat, who recently had their four-game winning streak snapped.

The Flames take on the Canadiens tomorrow at the Bell Centre (5:30 PM, Sportsnet); Montreal will be sporting another vintage uniform to remind us all that the franchise is indeed one-hundred years old and has won a bunch of Stanley Cups. I'm starting to think that this team has a more extensive wardrobe than Don Cherry.

The Flames are healthy and have the luxury of a full roster with the exception of Glencross and perhaps Sjostrom, while the Habs are fighting the injury bug, missing five regulars including Georges Laraque. Tough luck, McGrattan. Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec lead the Canadiens with fourteen points each, while Bourque leads the Flames with seventeen. Should be an interesting road trip, let's all hope that the Flames suffer a better fate at the ACC on Saturday than the Red Wings did.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Game day rant--Flames@Stars

Last time the Flames played Dallas, Sutter iced the line of Nystrom-Jokinen-Iginla and as Kent illustrates here, they were terrible for the most part. In what parallel universe is Nystrom a first-line winger? More to the point, what has he done recently to earn a go-around on the top-line carousel? Is Sutter just doing this out of desperation, curiosity, or does he genuinely believe that this can/will be a good line, competing against Dallas' top unit?

I know he wants to keep the second line together because they are the only ones producing right now, but would it kill him to try one or both of Langkow and/or Bourque on the first line with Iginla? Perhaps playing with the team's leading scorer will enable him to put up a few points and get the ball (or the puck) rolling in the right direction. Eric Nystrom is a good hockey player, but he's not first-line material and likely never will be; which is unfortunate given that the Flames drafted him 10th overall in 2002.

Does this team even have a legitimate first-line left-winger? In comparison to other teams with playoff/Stanley Cup aspirations (San Jose, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington, etc.), I would have to say no. The sheer incompetence of this line in all areas of the game, specifically generating shots on goal and scoring chances and lately, the powerplay, makes me think that that Whitney trade may not be such a bad idea after all. Phil Kessel had 10 shots on goal last night against Tampa...TEN! That's almost half of the Flames' shot total last game against the Wings. I die a little inside every time I see Mike Cammalleri score a goal or set up Gionta/Gomez (i.e. A LOT. Even in those weird stripe-y jailbait uniforms) and long for the days when petite #13 laced 'em up alongside Iggy and Langkow.

Nystrom's unexplained promotion to first-line duty makes even less sense when one considers his play as of late (1 point in his last five games, 0 SOG and -1 vs. Detroit); he has not been especially noticeable and if any young forward in the bottom-six rotation is going to get the job it should be Dustin Boyd (3 points in his last five games). I know LW isn't his natural position, but name someone else more deserving of the position based on his play so far this season. Step right up folks, everyone gets a turn on the wacky, unpredictable Flames first line that will shortly be the laughing stock of the entire NHL! Don't worry if you screw up, you'll get another shot in a few games because we've exhausted all of our other options and don't have the resources to trade for a viable top-six forward!

At least call up Mikael Backlund or something; he has more goals than Jokinen and is quite possibly playing against stronger competition in the American league. I would look into some trade possibilities but frankly, I can't be bothered. Trading Jokinen would imply that a) some other team actually wants him and is willing to give up something in return and b) Darryl Sutter would have to admit he was in the wrong. I don't know which situation is less likely to occur.

OK, rant over. Deep breaths...

Let's focus on the task at hand: getting two points against the Stars IN Dallas, something that has proven to be very difficult for the Flames.

Miikka Kiprusoff (illness) will not start in goal tonight for the Flames; he showed up to the morning skate and was promptly sent back to the team's hotel to get some rest. Karma? Irony? Poetic justice? You decide.

I have already made my thoughts on the H1N1 vaccine debacle clear over at M&G, but I absolutely cannot believe the backlash the Flames organization is experiencing. One man claims to have sold his season tickets and a woman in Airdrie is boycotting the Flames and the NHL, forbidding her children from watching or listening to hockey games and attending Flames games until the organization issues an apology. The vaccine shortage is in no way a direct result of Calgary Flames players, coaches, and their families receiving the vaccine, and I think anger at the players and the organization is misguided and wrought with hypocrisy.

OK, rant over for real this time.

So McElhinney will start for the Flames tonight, and the team in front of him supposedly has a renewed commitment to hard work and a newfound attention to detail. I'll believe it when I see it.

Marty Turco, Jere Lehtinen, and Mike Modano are all healthy and will return to the Stars' lineup tonight.

The lines/pairings:








* Brandon Prust is scratched with an apparent upper-body injury

The Flames desperately need two points tonight. They have four games in hand on Vancouver, but are now three points back after the Canucks won a fight-filled match vs. the Rangers, complete with some hilarious sound bytes. The Flames also have three games in hand on the Avs, who have lost two straight but play the Coyotes tonight.

I'm not overly optimistic that the Flames will come away with the victory, but if I see signs of improvement from the first line and/or that this team has learnt something from their past two losses and subsequent "tough" practices, I will consider it a small accomplishment.

Game time: 6:30 PM (TSN)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

7-4-1 ain't so pretty now

I attended my first Flames game of the new season Saturday night in conjunction with a friend's birthday, and although I recently (i.e. March) had my mini-2 game attendance winning streak snapped, I donned my historically unlucky Iginla jersey and marched up to section 303 (which is quite the climb for someone with an aversion to exercise), intent on cheering my boys on to victory. I had intentions of authoring a live and slightly drunk blog for your entertainment, but things happened and I got distracted, so I shall rehash my experience here instead.

First Period - Jersey on

The Flames had a few glorious opportunities right off the hop, including an open-net gimme on Osgood's glove side which Glencross fired off the side of the net. This game lacked any real intensity from the start and the Flames couldn't seem to sustain any pressure in the offensive zone, so Brittany and I went to get a beer. Upon my return about fifteen minutes later, out of breath and thirst sufficiently quenched, the Wings seemed to have found their legs and got in a few good shots on Kipper before the period ended, but the Flames 'tender shut the door, sliding across the crease to rob some Detriot player. The shots ended up being 10-6 for the Wings. MK was on his game, I thought to myself.

Second Period - Jersey off

Despite outhitting the Wings, the Flames looked like they were skating through mud in the second and every pass seemed to end up on the stick of a Red Wings player. I believe they were getting outshot 19-9 at one point and you got the sense that the Wings were about to break the stalemate. The Flames' second line, however, had other ideas. Bourque, working the end boards deep in the offensive zone, came away with the puck and tried to tuck it in on a wrap-around. Osgood made the stop, but Langkow was on the doorstep waiting to pot the rebound. Typical goal from the hard-working trio; one-zip Flames.

The Saddledome PA guy barely had time to catch his breath before Detriot tied the game. Former Flame Brad "Ference-Kobasew-and-a-pick" Stuart knotted the affair at ones thirty-five seconds later. The Wings weren't done there, as they took the lead on a similar goal by Big Ass Thomas Holmstrom a minute later. Glad to see the allowing-multiple-goals-in-short-periods-of-time habit is back.

The Flames came close to tying the game late in the second as they finally managed to gain the Detroit zone and got a flurry of shots off on Osgood to close out the period, but to no avail.

Third Period - JERSEY ON

The third period proved to be much of the same. The two teams traded chances and Kiprusoff made a few stellar stops with Rene Bourque in the box to keep his team in the game. Every time a Flames player had the puck there was at least one Red Wing on him, forcing the turnover. The Flames had trouble getting through the neutral zone and getting the puck into the offensive zone, and failed to establish anything remotely resembling a forecheck despite narrowly outshooting the Wings 8-7. Seeing that this game was likely a lost cause, we entertained ourselves with jokes about the auto industry and Detroit's high crime rate.

Dion Phaneuf then put the icing on the cake on for the Wings; with :45 left and Kiprusoff on the bench, he chipped the puck off the boards and into neutral ice and stood back to admire his handiwork as Kirk Maltby scooped up the puck and fired it into the empty net. 3-1 Wings; the shots ended up 30-21 in favour of Detroit.

This loss really bothered me; Maybe it was because I witnessed the ineptitude of the Iginla's line first hand, the lack of intensity, the possibility that the thinness of their top-six is finally beginning to show, or the fact that the defensive structure supposedly enforced by Brent Sutter has yet make a consistent appearance.

I really don't know what it is going to take to get Jarome and Olli to step up and fill their respective roles. I know every player finds their way out of a slump eventually and that perhaps the best way to do so is to play through it and hope some bounces start to go your way, but in order to do that, a player has to maintain a consistent level of effort and intensity, something we have yet to see from Iginla or Jokinen.

Does Sutter Jr. have the balls to bench his captain? To scratch his "first-line" centre? Something has to be done to get these guys to produce, and somehow I don't think trading for Ray Whitney is the answer. The old cliche "your best players have to be your best players" has never been more true, and it is simply unfair to expect Rene Bourque, Nigel Dawes, Cutris Glencross, and the likes to make up for the offence lost due to Iginla and Jokinen's lack of production. That is not their role. These players are paid to be elite-level goal scorers, and they're not performing as such.


- I didn't notice a whole lot of booing for Bertuzzi; either I didn't hear it or he hardly touched the puck. I suspect the latter.
- The stat lines for Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen in this game: Iginla (0 SOG, -2, 5 giveaways), Jokinen (2 SOG, -2). Insert expletive here.
- The Flames' PK continued to improve, killing off the all of the Wings' four powerplay opportunities. The powerplay, however, continues to struggle, going 0-2 in the game.
- Mark Giordano struggled for the second straight game. He was -1 and his improper read on an odd-man rush led to the tying goal by Stuart. Got crushed by Wings players at least twice.
- Surprise, surprise...the Flames' second line was their best yet again, at both ends of the ice. Langkow and Dawes were both +1 while Bourque was even, and Langkow and Bourque led the team with three shots on goal. The next best performance belonged to the fourth line, which Dustin Boyd led with and even +/- and two shots on goal.
- Staffan Kronwall drew into the lineup in place of Adam Pardy, and played against his brother Niklas for the first time in his career. He was -1 in 11:25 of ice time.
- Miikka Kiprusoff was voted the games' Hardest Working Flame and the third star, making twenty-eight saves in a losing cause. Despite allowing two goals a minute apart on very similar shots, Kipper was solid and made his fair share of highlight reel saves to keep the Flames in the game. He gave them a chance to win and the rest of the team failed to hold up their end of the bargain.
- The Abbotsford Heat are on a roll. The Baby Flames won their third straight game 2-1 over the Lake Erie Monsters Sunday Afternoon. Goaltender Leeland Irving was named the AHL Player of the Week, going 3-0 and posting a 0.65 goals against average and a .976 save percentage. Mikael Backlund scored his fifth goal of the season in the victory.

Up Next: The Flames hit the road to kick off a month of ten games away from the comfy confines of the 'Dome in Dallas on Wednesday (6:30 PM MT) for the second of four meetings between the two. The Stars lead the season series 1-0 after a 5-2 victory back on October 9th.

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